Michel Gondry deploys his unique visual sensibility with aplomb in Mood Indigo (2013), a colorful and creative romp ultimately undercut by the icky twists of fate in its plot. This surreal, absurdist urban fantasy starts out as a joyous romance, then descends into grimdark bleakness — and while there’s a method to its narrative, the underlying message is clumsy and anti-women.
Wealthy bachelor Colin (Romain Duris) lives in a magical Paris apartment, designing bizarre steampunk inventions and eating the marvelous creations of his lothario chef-stroke-lawyer Nicolas (Omar Sy). The only thing missing from his life is romance, so with the help of Nicolas and his best friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh), he heads out to a party to win one: the lively and beautiful Chloe (Audrey Tautou). Transcending his charmless awkwardness, Colin finally wins Chloe’s heart, and their courtship is a feast of outrageous visual humor and left-field eyeball kicks. But shortly after their marriage, Chloe develops a strange respiratory ailment. Her condition, exacerbated by Colin’s carefree financial irresponsibility, slowly bankrupts him and gradually transforms his world into a dystopian nightmare.
Initially the film garners a lot of good will with dazzling effects, unexpected turns, and quirky visual humor. I found Colin annoying and unlikeable, but the sheer absurdity of the world mitigates that and makes his antics watchable. Blending live action with stop motion and other scene-twisting effects, the first half of the movie is winning, especially when Tautou enters the frame to soften Duris’s rough edges. The “biglemoi” dance scene had me grinning from ear to ear.
But once the lovers get married, the downward spiral begins, and if that’s a coincidence, it sure is poor script engineering. I get the sense that outwardly, Gondry is interested in making a barbed satirical point about class: how the wealthy live in a reality-warping bubble that colors (literally, in this case) their view of the world. Once the money drains away, and they’re down in the shit with the disadvantaged, suddenly the world doesn’t look so rosy. All this would be fine if the message hadn’t been structured around the romance. Colin’s descent is tied inextricably to Chloe, who enters his life, makes him briefly happy, and then ruptures his bank account and gradually drains all the joy out of living. Meanwhile Chick, the film’s other upper-class twit, ultimately meets his downfall when his obsession with a philospher drives his long-suffering girlfriend Alise (Aïssa Maïga) into a murderous rage. If the film is supposed to be criticizing the men, it fumbles that message with icky gender politics, making it appear that if they just hadn’t tied themselves to women everything would have been fine. This is either clumsy, subliminal misogyny, or a deliberately ugly subtext. Either way, it scuttles an otherwise interesting and visually clever film.